Madras High Court on Thursday partly upheld the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Online Gambling and Regulation of Online Games Act, 2022 by ruling that it will only apply to games of chance and not games of skill like rummy and poker, in a setback to the Tamil Nadu government.
However, the first bench of Chief Justice Sanjay V Gangapurwala and Justice P D Audikesavalu said the state government can impose “reasonable regulations” with regard to time limit, age or any such restrictions to playing of online games.
In their verdict on a petition filed by All India Gaming Federation seeking to declare the act as “ultra vires”, the judges held that the state government is competent to legislate to the extent of prohibiting online gambling — games of chance, while it has the authority to regulate online games of skill.
“In the light of the aforesaid discussion, we hold that the impugned Act, in its entirety, need not be held to be ultra vires…The games of rummy and poker are games of card, but are games of skill. Section 2(l)(iv) is being read down, to mean, it excludes games of skill viz., rummy and poker,” the judges wrote in their detailed order.
The Act was re-enacted by the Tamil Nadu Assembly in March after the Governor returned the bill passed in October 2022 based on a detailed report submitted by Justice (retired) K Chandru. The government asked justice Chandru to study the ill-effects of online rummy in the wake of over 40 people dying by suicide after losing money by playing the games.
The judges observed that the games of online rummy and poker are no different from playing physical rummy or poker, other than the fact that the game is conducted and played virtually on a platform.
“The game per se is the same rummy game or the same poker game as in physical format. The State purports unreasonable classification and creates an artificial distinction between online and offline rummy,” they wrote.
The judges also added that the state government has failed to place any material or evidence on record to justify the difference in playing rummy physically or in online mode and the said classification is in utter violation of Article 14 of the Constitution of India.
“The State, in the impugned Act, has already included the games of rummy and poker to be online games of chance merely on presumption. The same cannot be protected. The same would be contrary to the judgments of the apex court and of this court,” the judges added.
The verdict also said the state government can provide for the time limit, that the game may not be played after a particular time and it would have the necessary infrastructure and expertise to take all the measures that the games would not be played within the state after a particular time.
“It can also regulate the age restriction and other aspects. The same would be within the competence of the state,” they added.
The Act had said no online games provider shall provide online gambling service or allow playing of any online game of chance specified with money or other stakes or playing of any other online game in contravention of the regulations, in any form.
The AIADMK government had in 2021 imposed a ban through a law which was struck down in entirety by the Madras High Court on the grounds that the legislation was drafted without enough proof and reasons.
(Published 09 November 2023, 18:53 IST)